Silhouette members discussed Pavel Lungin’s Ostrov (The Island) which is a spiritual film about the guilt for an action committed more than three decades ago. The film questions the concept of ‘sin’ and through the discreet portrayal of a man’s journey asks the bigger question – isn’t it that all human beings are sinners? Silhouette recommends the film.
Amitava Nag, Diptansu Sengupta, Doelpakhi Dasgupta, Partha Sarathi Raha, Sambaran Sarkar, Subhadeep Ghosh
Things that worked:
Russian director Pavel Lungin’s Ostrov (The Island) is a spiritual film that deals deeply with the philosophy of ‘sin’ – who is a sinner, what qualifies for a sin, how long one must carry the burden on him and so on.
Set in the chilly climes of an island on the White Sea along the northwest coast of Russia, the film depicts the apparent idiosyncrasies of Father Anatoly, a monk of a Russian Orthodox Church. The film, however, opens up during World War II when a Russian sailor and his captain were captured by a Nazi battalion. The sailor (whom we later identify as the monk Father Anatoly) who was petrified of dying and pleaded mercy was given a choice by the German officer to kill the captain and stay alive. The sailor shot his captain who fell overboard. For over three decades Father Anatoly suffered from the burden of repentance within him as we find him chanting the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”) in his submission to Almighty.
All the members of Silhouette agreed that the location of the film was deeply intriguing and in another sense painstakingly insolent. On one hand, it absolved one off one’s sins and helped him to unite with God, and on the other, the barrage of lifeless white depressed one to the core in nature’s mundane repetitiveness. Doelpakhi found the basic dichotomy of the plot engaging – a symbolic representation of guilt of a man who probably hadn’t committed a crime he was repenting about. She felt the director questioned the rubrics of the concepts of holiness and sin and how fragile their existences are. For Doelpakhi, what was immensely moving was the self-inflicted pain, the self-imposed exile and suffering which Father Anatoly granted himself. His quest for salvation, if any was the eternal quest for truth, either through pain or by liberation. Doelpakhi loved the acting of Pyotr Mamonov who played Father Anatoly as well as the background music of the film, two characteristics which most members approved with her.
Sambaran felt that this film is devoid of the typical melodrama commonly present in many other films which deal with the aspects of spirituality. He also loved the journey of Father Anatoly – how he transcended from a common man to almost Biblical proportions. The ambience of the film created a supernatural tempo at times in line with Anatoly’s spiritual flights.
Diptansu found the film extremely well-made with a specific mention of the camera movements and positions used in filming it. He elaborated that every frame was almost like a painting – so sublime were the compositions. He emphasized that the director deliberately confused or probably raised doubts about the concepts of sin and also questioned the institution of Church. Anatoly was seen applying ink on the handle of his chamber in order to vilify and humiliate Father Job and in a later scene he was seen turning on a different direction during a mass prayer. Was Anatoly a rebel? Or he was plainly different from the norm? This conflict, this liberation from prejudice was handled by the camera movement within the apparently serene divinity of the landscape in an attempt to break it and establish the dichotomy, felt Diptansu.
For Partha the most touching philosophy of the film was the quest of Anatoly towards a personal God. In the definitive scene between Anatoly and Father Superior Filaret it was established that through personal anguish and mental torture Anatoly attained a spiritual height that Father Filaret was till then unable to achieve. Subhadeep felt that in real life there remains a gap between the preaching of a religion and its actual practice. At times, the monks resort to magical tricks to promote and propagate their supreme states. Subhadeep felt, unlike the other monks Anatoly was not faking his feelings and actions to score points over the commoners who came to him for advice. The suffering of Anatoly was so convincing that when the final climactic twist was reached we as audience could relate to Anatoly’s urge to break free from the stigma of sin he was carrying.
For Amitava, in a film this slow, the tautness of it was achieved by the minimalism in art décor and in the deep performance of Pyotr Mamonov who did succeed in conveying his inner turmoil and the questions that remain unanswered.
Things that didn’t work:
The group agreed that there was monotony in the film’s journey which was partly salvaged by the concluding twist. To Doelpakhi the text could have been better handled in a novel and not as a film. Though she liked the music of the film, she was a tad disappointed with its sound-scape, more so because there were possibilities of providing a vivid one considering the different natural elements depicted on screen. She also disliked the fact that the film lacked silent moments and had a continuous music in the background creating a less appealing cinematic impact.
Sambaran thought that the director was probably a bit overboard in his depiction of almost supernatural powers of Anatoly. Diptansu agreed, because for him the crux of the film was the conflict between the holy-sin dichotomy and in that Anatoly’s magical powers were sort of a digression. He also concluded that the last sequence of the film could have been reduced or done differently.
Subhadeep, Partha and Amitava disapproved the depiction of faultless magical powers of Anatoly, Subhadeep felt that the treatment could have been different for this film.
Parts of the film that will be remembered:
For Doelpakhi the best moments of the film include the changing love-hate relation between Father Job and Father Anatoly specially during the last few days of Anatoly’s life. She also liked the recurring motif of penance – coal being loaded in hand drawn carts and taken away continuously as if Anatoly is digging the dirt out of Mother Earth and toiling hard to keep her clean. Sambaran liked quite a few moments of he film. The one which stuck him the most was the one in which we find Father Filaret with a faint smile in his lips as he was hering Father Anatoly singing outside – a rejuvenating moment that also established Filaret’s inherent likeness for Anatoly which was a sore area for Father Job.
Partha loved the scene when Father Filaret came to meet Father Anatoly who perched himself on the top of a Bell Tower. Father Anatoly was ringing the bells at that time probably symbolising his communion with God as he mentioned – “I have no fear”. It was his outlet, his source of sustenance to live with the burden of sin and also not able to cope with the strictures and formalism that the Orthodox Church imposed upon him. Subhadeep loved the ending sequence in all and the one where we find Anatoly preparing to go inside the coffin, in particular as he contemplated – “I am not afraid to die, I am afraid to stand before God. Sins are oppressing me”. Amitava loved the inherent symbolism in the final scene when we find Father Job carrying the Cross on his back and finally in the boat along with Anatoly’s coffin. The boat ride over the still water ferried Anatoly to the other world and Job’s carrying it symbolised Christ’s resurrection. Amitava also felt that in the end the way the director changed Job’s mental positioning, as audience we would probably be less harsh towards him – an equanimity of the character and an egalitarian approach to demonstrate, probably, that Chist is within everyone of us.
Diptansu on the contrary felt that since Father Job was shown in partial negative light almost throughout the film and in the end when he was carrying the Cross resembling Christ, it probably meant that even the son of God was an equal sinner like Father Job, Father Anatoly or Father Filaret. The other scene which moved Diptansu was a monologue by Father Anatoly on the water-side as he was pleading to the Almighty to absolve him from his sins – “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow”. The subsequent few shots showed water lapping on to the shores, receding and returning again, to the wooden structure, the rusted nails, the decadent mortals as if to cleanse all from their misdemeanour, yet this ablution was not sufficient.
The other texts (films or otherwise) which come to mind watching this:
Doelpakhi remembered Michaël Dudok de Wit’s award winning animation short Father and Daughter mostly with respect to the use of water and the interplay of light and shade reflecting from it. Satyajit Ray’s Devi was the other film that came to her mind albeit in a completely reverse way.
Diptansu would draw reference from multiple films of Ingmar Bergman including Through a Glass Darkly and Silence as well as a few films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Amitava, Partha and Sambaran agreed that they got reminded of Takovsky’s Andrei Rublev and Nostalghia and also Angelopolous’s Eternity and a Day and Weeping Meadows for visual semblance.
Subhadeep added Bergman’s Winter Light and Amitava, The Seventh Seal – for Bergman’s supreme handling of the themes on religion and the conflicts of the soul as a poignant undercurrent of his cinema’s recurrent philosophy.
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